Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Myth of the Chreasters

You know what a Chreaster is, right, because that's an old one? A Chreaster is a person who only shows up at church on Christmas and Easter. Chr-Easter. Get it?

The theory is that some sizable population of church-going folks only show up on those two Sundays, neglecting the congregation for the remaining 50 weeks out of each year. Is that accurate?

For years I presumed the truth of the Chreaster theory and bemoaned the scourge of it. It has to be true, doesn't it, because our buildings are packed full on those two days in ways that they aren't full the remainder of the year, aren't they? All those extra people have to come from somewhere. The Chreaster theory just has to be true, doesn't it?

So I thought, but then something happened: Then I looked around one Easter to try to identify the individual Chreasters one-by-one.

And I hardly found ANY.

The Chreaster theory oversimplifies a much more nuanced truth. By the way, a lot of the pontification over SBC attendance statistics oversimplify the SAME nuanced truth. The simple fact, whether we like it or not, is that we have a lot of people who are regular churchgoers for whom "regular" means something other than "weekly."

For example, consider a church member who is a nurse at a local hospital. Her work schedule doesn't require her to be at the hospital every Sunday, but it does require her to be at work on one or two Sundays each month, depending on the month. She attends Sunday services regularly, but she's not here every week.

Or, consider the divorced single father with a split custody arrangement for his children. He has them every other weekend. On weekends when he doesn't have the kids, he's depressed and doesn't come himself. On weekends when he has his children, he never misses.

Of course, a large number of people are under-committed, but committed nonetheless, to church attendance. They come so long as something else (fatigue, sporting events, etc.) doesn't get in the way. Let's presume that they have LOTS of things in their lives to get in the way (which is often the case), so they miss two out of three Sundays, but about every third Sunday they are in attendance like clockwork.

Certainly in many of these cases these are believers who need to be encouraged to attend more frequently. We want people at FBC Farmersville to attend every week—multiple times every week. But would you seek to discipline out a believer for attending just biweekly? Monthly? On what scriptural basis would you do so? Has a person truly forsaken the assembly if he's there twice every month without fail? Does the New Testament somewhere command each individual believer to attend corporate worship at least once a week?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not happy with anybody's church attendance until it is weekly or better. I think that people who attend at least once every week are stronger as disciples and will fare better in their faith. Statistics will back me up on that one. And yet, the guy who shows up with his family once every month is hardly a Chreaster and would not be in violation of the FBC Farmersville covenant.

So, why the big attendance spike on Christmas and Easter? Because all of those people, whether it's "their week" or not, are going to be in church on those two Sundays. I think that Christmas and Easter are two times of year when you get a more accurate sense of how many people your congregation actually contains. Yes, the numbers are overstated by some factor, but the "normal" weekly attendance figures are understated by (I think) a larger factor.

These special Sundays are an important opportunity for your church, and the debunking of the Chreaster myth helps us to know how to use them. Rather than presuming that we're talking to a building full to the rafters with gospel-inoculated pagans on those days, maybe it is a good idea to spend one of those Sundays from time to time winsomely acknowledging that you have most of the family there on that day and reminding them of what an encouragement they are to one another when they all show up. What would you say in the living room of a member who is faithfully attending every other week in order to get him to come every week? Maybe that's an effective message for Christmas and Easter.


danielmharding said...

Very well said. Thank you for that encouragement. As a pastor in my first year I heard everyone moaning and groaning about how many people would be there for Easter this year that I didn't know. I knew them all - I just hadn't seen some of them in a month or so.
I would say that we may fail to acknowledge this because it gives us a reason to hold something over others. My personal legalism is usually at the heart of my criticism of others.

Bart Barber said...

I'm glad you were encouraged by the post, Daniel.

I had this one auto-scheduled, and I forgot about it. I posted non-scheduled content right atop this post, and it got buried a bit. Thanks for bothering to read it!

Bob Cleveland said...

When we first joined a church in 1961, they were rehearsing for the Easter musical, so that's about when it was. In talking with the pastor, he mentioned the "Chreaster" phenomenon, and added "I don't really see any new faces on Easter of Christmas .. i just think everybody who ever attends, comes on those two days."

Your observation is most valid. But I do think there are hordes who never ever attend, though.